Friday, June 24, 2011

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie in the Park

I signed up to bake a pie and bring it to a Pie in the Park picnic at Smorgasburg last weekend, but I had trouble determining what type of pie I wanted to make. I kept finding tarts I was interested in (Do tarts count as pie? They're included in the same cookbook sections, but I couldn't be sure.). I considered a Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie, kind of like a big chocolate chip cookie in a pie crust, and a chocolate pecan pie, but it didn't seem like the right season. I was dying to make a Mississippi Mud Pie, but that included ice cream, not the best for an outdoor picnic. I avoided pies that required whipped cream to be just perfect. I searched for that pie that could stand on its own.

Finally, I went to the Union Square Famers' Market on Monday for inspiration. I saw the first blueberries of the season (they still needed some time), last year's cellared apples and honey. Then I rounded the corner. There they were. Beautiful pints of rosy New Jersey strawberries and bright red stalks of rhubarb, just calling out my name.

Strawberry-rhubarb pie. The market determined it for me.

I just needed a recipe. Previous strawberry-rhubarb pies I've made turned out delicious but runny, and the filling didn't really stay together after the first slice was cut. Those pies tended to use cornstarch as a thickener, but I remembered my mom using instant tapioca that came in a bright red box to thicken her fruit pies.

Deb from Smitten Kitchen had come to the same realization that tapioca worked wonders as a thickener. She'd also incorporated brown sugar into the pie filling and used less sugar so the tartness of the rhubarb would stand out. I knew I had found my recipe. Deb never lets me down.

The pie picnic? It was certainly enjoyable. I ate three slices of delicious pies, made by both amature and professional bakers. My favorite was a Nutty Monkey Pie, loaded with toasted walnuts, dark chocolate bits and banana chips (though I could have left those out). Unfortunately, there were A LOT of strawberry-rhubarb pies. I was encouraged to see so many bakers going for the seasonal ingredients, but it meant that my little guy just wasn't the star of the show.

Oh well. The little bite I had of my pie was delicious.

And, Pie in the Park sent us home with these beautiful custom recipe cards.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

Really, really search for Minute Tapioca, the kind that comes in the red box. You can use tapioca pearls in this recipe, which I was able to find, but your finished pie will be left with visible (but quite softened) tapioca pearls. The taste of the pie wasn't affected, but the appearance certainly was.

My mom makes extra pie filling when the fruit is in season, packages it in ziplock bags, and labels it with the date and pie type. That way she can have fresh fruit pies all winter. If only I had more freezer space!

1 recipe for your favorite double-crust pie dough
3 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced if big, halved if tiny (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
Unsalted butter for sprinkling over the top of the pie, cut into small pieces (Deb used 2 tablespoons; I used about 1 teaspoon because I forgot it until the crust was on (oops!), and it still tasted rich and delicious!)
1 large egg yolk, blended with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out half of pie dough into a 12-inch circle, and carefully transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate. I roll my pie crust out between sheets of plastic wrap so that I can easily pick it up and transfer it to the pie pan.

Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, lemon, salt and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound the filling inside the bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter (it's up to you how much to use!).

Roll out the second half of the pie dough. Cut decorate slits in the top. I did short slit, long slit, short slit, long slit, just to give it some variety. Transfer it to the center of the pie filling. Trim the top and bottom pie crusts so they overhang beyond the pie plate lip about 1/2-inch. Tuck the edge of the dough underneath itself, and crimp it.

Transfer the pie to a baking sheet (your pie may juice over, and this will save you a lot of cleaning), and brush the egg yolk mixture over the dough.

Bake the pie for 20 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.

Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool. When fully cool, the juices will gel.


  1. Oh, my husband would have loved to come with you to the Pie gig...his favorite desserts are pies. Yours looks absolutely perfect and delicious.

  2. Thanks, Kayte! If he makes it out to Brooklyn, he can attend one this summer! If you visit the Pie in the Park website, you can also get helpful information about throwing a Pie in the Park event in your town.